New AJCS Publication on Competition in the Indo-Pacific

21 May 2023

Al Jazeera Centre for Studies released a new book on 21 May 2023 titled Sira' al-Quwwa al-Kubra fi al-Hindu Basifik: I'adat Takhayyul al-Kharita al-Istratijiya li-Asiya ("The Struggle between Great Powers in the Indo-Pacific: Reimagining the Strategic Map of Asia") by Abdelkader Dendenne, a researcher specialised in Asian affairs.

The book examines the concept of the "Indo-Pacific", or the region of the Indian and Pacific Oceans, and explores the stages and backgrounds of its rise and prominence. It also explores its connection to what is known as imaginary spaces or mental maps, which play an important and decisive and role in understanding the developments of the contemporary world. Furthermore, it traces the strategic developments taking place in the Indo-Pacific region, deeming it the centre of transformations expected to have the most impact on the international reality and the future of international relations in terms of security, military, strategy and economy.

In addition, the book explains the foundations and bases of the strategic divergence between the perspectives of the proponents of this concept, particularly the countries known as the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (the United States, Japan, Australia and India) and the forces opposing it, led by China. It explores the management of the ongoing conflict between the two sides through various mechanisms and responses, including those related to security and economy.

The book deduces that invoking the concept of the Indo-Pacific from its historical and geographical context and adding strategic, geopolitical and geo-economic dimensions to it is not a mere coincidence or intellectual luxury, but rather a necessity dictated by a set of interrelated factors, data and interests embraced by the countries adopting the concept. The most significant and influential among these factors is the rise of China regionally and globally, its threat to the structure of the international system and the distribution of power within it, the displacement of certain powers – primarily the United States – from their global position, and the emergence of other powers in their place or at least in their proximity to Washington in a multi-polar world where America is less powerful and less influential.

At the regional level, the book asserts, the rise of the Indo-Pacific coincided with the growing role of India in the Western Pacific, as it moved away from its strategic isolation in the Indian Ocean. It also highlights the strength of India's relationships with the United States, Japan and Australia, as well as Washington's shift in focus and strategic priorities from the Middle East and Europe to the Pacific Ocean primarily, and to India secondarily. This includes the establishment of a US military command for the Indo-Pacific, replacing its previous focus on the Asia-Pacific. Additionally, Australia's enthusiasm to play the role of a leading and responsible middle power – the most effective one beyond the boundaries of Oceania in the Western Pacific and the Indian Ocean at that – explains why it became the first country to incorporate the concept of the Indo-Pacific into its official strategic documents.

Moreover, the book points out that China is the focal point and primary target of the Indo-Pacific strategy. This is because the countries comprising the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue have contentious relations with China; and the hostility towards it shapes and defines the security environment in the Indo-Pacific. This is the reason Beijing rejects the concept and views its policies, strategies and alliances as hostile.

On their part, the countries of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue are keen on restraining the roles played by China in the region. They oppose China's regional claims in the South China Sea, East China Sea and Taiwan, accusing it of threatening their maritime security and their right to freedom of navigation.

These conflicting visions and divergent perspectives, the book contends, create a charged atmosphere and a turbulent security environment in the Indo-Pacific. This is fuelled by a sharp divide based on strategic and normative foundations between the countries of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue on one hand, and China in particular on the other hand. Each party has sought to attract other powers from within and outside the region – such as South Korea, New Zealand, ASEAN countries, France, Britain, Germany and the European Union in the case of the Quad countries; and Russia, North Korea and other countries in the case of China. There is fierce competition among these powers to gain the support of small island nations in the South Pacific, given their growing strategic importance in this conflict.

Ultimately, the book concludes that amidst the prospects of conflict on one side and possibilities of cooperation on the other, the security environment of the Indo-Pacific region remains precarious as do regional and global security and stability. The book warns that any militarisation of regional conflicts and interactions leading to extreme forms of warfare between the Chinese on one hand and the Americans and their allies on the other, would drag the entire world into a costly and devastating war. This is particularly concerning given the military capabilities present in the region, which include nuclear capabilities, as well as the high population density and the underlying historical disputes among several powers fuelled by decades of tension over various regional demands.

To avoid the scenario of war, the book suggests strengthening a network of regional arrangements to monitor the developments of existing conflicts; establishing a joint monitoring and surveillance mechanism for various events that could lead to inadvertent war; developing an early warning system that tracks warnings of potential conflicts or specific escalations that could ignite an unpredictable confrontation; and avoiding brinkmanship policies, mutual provocations and irresponsible rhetoric. Even if complete or near-complete cooperation scenarios are not achieved, the greater achievement would be to keep the conflict and competition within certain limits, so that they do not threaten security and stability in the region.

Sira' al-Quwwa al-Kubra fi al-Hindu Basifik: I'adat Takhayyul al-Kharita al-Istratijiya li-Asiya bridges a gap in Arab strategic studies, which still require more specialised and in-depth research and writings to address developments, especially in a region that extends geographically, geopolitically and geo-economically to the Arab region, particularly Gulf and other Arab countries bordering the Indian Ocean.

The author, Abdelkader Dendenne, is an associate professor at the University of Annaba in Algeria and a researcher specialised in Asian affairs. He has numerous publications and research papers related to this field, including: As-Sin wa Azmat at-Taqa: Mutalazemat Tazayud at-Talab fi ad-Dakhil wa at-Taba’iya lil Kharij ("China and the Energy Crisis: The Dilemma of Increasing Domestic Demand and External Dependence") and Al-Adwar al-Iqlimiyya lil Quwwa as-Sa'ida fi al-'Alaqat ad-Dawliyya ("The Regional Roles of Emerging Powers in International Relations"). He also supervises several research projects, including: Jiyobolitik an-Naza'at fi Qarat Asiya ("The Geopolitics of Conflicts in the Asian Continent"), Ad-Diblomasiyat al-Thalath fi Siyasat as-Sin al-Kharijiya ("The Three Diplomacies in China's Foreign Policy") and Jiyobolitik al-Madha'iq wal Mamarat al-Bahriyya al-'Alamiyya ("The Geopolitics of Global Straits and Maritime Passages").

To read or download the book (in Arabic), click here.